Austria’s new non-partisan foreign minister Karin Kneissl is under fire over her views on Zionism, Israel and the Middle East.
An independent who was nominated as foreign minister by the far-right Freedom Party (FPÖ), she has angered both Muslims and Jews in the past.
She wrote in her 2014 memoir that Theodor Herzl’s Zionism was a “blood and soil ideology” based on German nationalism that was “supposed to create a new man.”
Erhard Stackl, editor of Vienna’s Jewish Echo, told the JC that her analysis is “wrong in several respects”, not least because Herzl was clear about protecting the rights of minorities in a Jewish state.
Ms Kneissel also described Arabs as having a “less forward-looking, godly, and fateful mentality”, according to political scientist Thomas Schmidinger.
Florian Markl, from the pro-Israel think-tank Mena Watch, questioned Ms Kneissl’s views on the Syrian civil war after she proposed Turkish intelligence and the Islamist al-Nusra Front were behind poison gas attacks perpetrated by pro-Assad forces in Damascus’s suburbs.
“This is a clear conspiracy theory,” Mr Markl said.
Born in Vienna in 1965, Ms Kneissl spent part of her childhood in Jordan, took Arabic studies at the University of Vienna, and speaks Arabic and Hebrew. Her time as an Austrian diplomat in the 1990s included several years working in the ministry’s Middle East division.
She is not a member of the FPÖ, but has a background in conservative politics and was present last weekend at a major campaign rally held by the far-right party in the state of Lower Austria.
Ms Kneissl’s critics do not doubt her qualifications, but her temperament and stark foreign- policy views.
“She certainly does not suffer from shyness or self-doubt,” Mr Markl said.
Her ideas have made her popular on the right in Austria, Mr Stackl pointed out.
“She knows what she’s talking about “but she has ideas of her own that are very much off-centre.”